Recent Happenings in Federal Affairs: Gorsuch Sworn in with Donnelly’s Support

Senator Joe Donnelly joined a select few Democrats last week to announce support for President Trump’s pick to the U.S. Supreme Court: federal appellate judge Neil Gorsuch.

Donnelly stated, “I have said consistently that part of my job is to carefully review, debate and vote on judicial nominations, including nominees to the Supreme Court. It is my obligation as senator to consider the qualifications of each nominee that comes to the Senate floor to determine if he or she can faithfully serve on our nation’s highest court. I take this responsibility very seriously.

“After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, conducting a thorough review of his record and closely following his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I believe that he is a qualified jurist who will base his decisions on his understanding of the law and is well-respected among his peers.

“I was deeply disappointed by the way the most recent Supreme Court nominee, judge Merrick Garland, was treated by the Senate, but as senator, I can only vote on the nominee that comes to the Senate floor. However, I believe that we should keep the current 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees.”

Gorsuch was sworn in on Monday.

In other news:

  • Responding to the requests from a bipartisan cohort of Indiana elected officials, newly appointed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has announced he will visit the U.S. Smelter and Lead Superfund site in East Chicago on April 19. Senators Donnelly and Todd Young, congressman Pete Visclosky (IN-01) and Gov. Eric Holcomb each had invited Pruitt to visit after his appointment to the position. The area has been the focus of concern for local, state and federal officials since the magnitude of the environmental (water) lead contamination became clear.
  • Representative Luke Messer (IN-06) last week called on Congress to come back, instead of breaking early for Easter, to repeal and replace Obamacare. In a floor speech addressing his colleagues in the House, Messer said, “Congress is leaving for Easter break with work undone. For seven years, we’ve told the American people we would repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, and we have legislation that provides that opportunity. … We need to do what we said we would do.” Earlier, Messer joined members of the House Republican leadership – led by Speaker Paul Ryan – to announce an amendment to the American Health Care Act that safeguards patients with pre-existing conditions in a way that will also lower premiums. This amendment creates the $15 billion new federal risk-sharing program that will help states reduce premiums by reimbursing health insurance issuers for high-cost individuals beginning in 2018. The proposal by congressmen Gary Palmer of Alabama and David Schweikert of Arizona is modeled after a program in Maine.
  • Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03) has introduced the Head Start Improvement Act, a bill to reform the Head Start early childhood education program. The legislation would give states increased flexibility in spending the Head Start dollars they receive from the federal government to better meet the specific needs of low-income children. The bill would provide Head Start block grants directly to eligible grantees, which include states, territories and federally-recognized Indian tribes. He got the idea from state Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville), who has suggested this as part of the larger pre-K pilot program at the state level. “As a father of three young girls, I understand the importance of making sure our kids receive the best education possible,” said Banks. “Unfortunately, Head Start is failing to make a significant contribution to student development, and it is clear that Head Start needs a new start. Giving states, local officials and parents greater control over the Head Start program will result in better tailored pre-K programs for Hoosier students.”

UPDATED: Our Congressmen Agree on Something! (Paperwork is Terrible)

Any time eight members of a nine-person Congressional delegation can agree on something these days, it must be a good thing. That is the case with the Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act of 2011.

H.R. 4 is expected to be considered on the House floor today and the subject of a vote on Thursday. The 273 co-sponsors include all six Indiana Republicans (Larry Buschon, Dan Burton, Mike Pence, Todd Rokita, Marlin Stutzman and Todd Young) as well as Democrats Andre Carson and Joe Donnelly. Only Pete Visclosky is missing from the co-sponsor list, which, of course, doesn’t disqualify him from supporting the bill.

For those who don’t recall the provision or prefer to block it out in order to try and get a good night’s sleep, a section of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandates that small business owners file a 1099-MISC with the IRS for all payments of $600 or more to a vendor in a tax year. In other words, just about everything. In a regulatory world gone awry, this might be the biggest nightmare of all if allowed to proceed.

The repeal earlier passed the Senate 81-17. Let’s hope common sense prevails in the House this week. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council has additional background and facts.

UPDATED: Thankfully, the U.S. House has voted to repeal this ridiculous measure. Surprisingly, despite being listed as a co-sponsor, Indiana Rep. Andre Carson voted against the measure. All eight other Hoosiers representatives sided with the majority in a 314-112 vote. The Senate has passed a slightly different version, so a compromise will need to be reached. Journal of Accountancy has the story.

Hoosier Legislators Remark on State of Union

As is standard practice, Indiana’s congressmen and senators released their thoughts on last night’s State of the Union speech. Here are a few samples, courtesy of Inside INdiana Business:

Sen. Richard Lugar
“More jobs, now, in private industry are essential to strengthen our country. The President spoke of his strong interest in job creation, but his State of the Union address needs immediate follow-up with very specific proposals and personal negotiation to bring bi-partisan legislation and encouragement for all businesses that are prepared to hire more people. This is job number one for President Obama and the U.S. Congress.”

Rep. Andre Carson
“I hope my colleagues on the Republican side recognize that leadership is more than just slashing spending. It’s also recognizing the importance of making investments in areas that are crucial to keeping the United States at the forefront. The President has committed to cutting the deficit as well as improving resources for infrastructure, education and research. This approach is bold, necessary and one that I support.”

Rep. Todd Rokita:
The President’s proposals to freeze discretionary spending does not go far enough. Rokita told WIBC the federal government should follow Indiana’s lead. He says the state reverted to 2008 spending levels and then cut another 15 percent across the board.

Rep. Pete Visclosky
“President Obama made clear tonight, and I agree, that our nation’s economic security is a critical component of ensuring our broader national security. As we rebuild our nation’s economy, we must defend our existing industries, invest in our public infrastructure, and address the problem of our massive federal debt. Meeting these worthy goals can help ensure access to solid employment, expanded economic opportunities, and a good quality of life for residents of Northwest Indiana.”

Dalton: HD19 GOP Primary has Intrigue for Northwest Indiana Voters

Steve Dalton’s popular blog Northwest Indiana Politics is read by many politicos statewide.

House District 19: The Republican primary pits former Mayor of Crown Point Dan Klein against Fran Katz, chief operating officer of the American Society of Agronomy.  

Republicans believe this seat to be particularly vulnerable to a pick-up in that first-term incumbent Shelli VanDenburgh is a Democrat in a marginally Republican district — by a small margin. In a year where one House race may determine control of redistricting, and some of those races may be determined yet again by just hundreds of votes — or less, this race has been targeted by HRCC as a key priority. During 2009, there was quite a bit of effort expended to recruit former military hero Luke Abbott to run for this office, and initially he did announce intentions to run. Early in 2010, word leaked out that his work schedule would preclude him from running and HRCC began to search to find another suitable candidate. 

Here’s where there is a bit of controversy: Instead of working closely with the new GOP chair from Lake County, Kim Krull, HRCC jumped quickly to put out former Mayor Klein’s name and freeze everyone else out. Fran Katz then, with the support of chairman Krull, filed to run as well. Chairman Krull says she will work with the winner to replace Vandenburgh, but that she was not in the loop and didn’t know that Klein was being recruited. There have been words of frustration from both camps over the apparent faux pas, but at this point there’s a primary and everyone’s working to win.

Former Mayor Klein is handicapped by his dramatic loss in the Republican primary in 2007 to the director of the Crown Point Chamber of Commerce (the Republican went on to lose the mayor’s office to Democrats in that year). There have also been persistent issues surrounding an investigation into a loan made to Plasmatronics, an economic development opportunity, while he was mayor. The discussion boards and blog comments have been littered with accusations that to date have not been anything more than that. But all handicaps and gossip mills aside, Klein has name recognition as a former mayor and current director of Habitat for Humanity. He also has the support of potential Speaker Bosma and the finance commitments that may be necessary to knock off an incumbent Democrat. Rumors that this run is merely a stepping stone to another run for mayor are probably whisper campaigns to stir up resentment only. 

Katz appears to bring a wealth of experience in sciences and research, and a lifetime of working to combat arbitrary ceilings and barriers. She does not have the name recognition that Klein holds, but she has the tacit support of the Lake County GOP organization and those in Crown Point who remember Mayor Klein less than fondly.   

I would predict a Klein win, though a smaller margin than expected by any of the internal polling, based on name recognition voting. A big turnout favors Klein; a weak turnout in heavy rain probably gives Katz a chance.  

U.S. House District One: I can keep this short and sweet. Rob Pastore has run the most aggressive campaign, and has captured the most attention among Republican candidates. I would expect him to win the primary. I would also expect that, barring major corruption charges, Pete Visclosky will win re-election. This is the safest seat in Indiana for Democrats.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Out of respect for our guest bloggers, we will not be allowing anonymous comments on their blogs this week. Additionally, the Indiana Chamber does not necessarily share the opinions of our guest bloggers.

An Early Look at the 2010 Congressional Vote

Politicos tell us it’s never too early to look ahead to the next election. Washington’s CQ Politics does so for Congress, rating 100 House districts in play in some form in the 2010 mid-term elections.

CQ has eight of Indiana’s nine incumbents in the safe category. They are Visclosky, Donnelly, Carson and Ellsworth on the Dems’ side, and Souder, Buyer, Burton and Pence for the Republicans. Baron Hill (9th District) is in the Democrat Favored listing.

Key items to watch, according to CQ:

  • Democrats will likely lose a portion of their 256-178 (one current opening) advantage. The party in charge of the White House typically loses seats during the first mid-term vote (although the GOP and President Bush were an exception in 2002)
  • Swing seats will be a big focus. In 49 districts, voters favored John McCain for president but elected a Democrat to the House; conversely, 34 districsts backed President Obama but put a Republican in the House
  • Of the 100 seats rated competitive, 59 are held by Democrats. Only three are viewed as toss-ups, a slightly higher numbers as highly competitive and the majority as slightly competitive

Much can change, however, over the next 15 months.

“Climate Change” Bill Passes U.S. House

The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed the House this evening, 219-212.

Here’s how Indiana’s Congressmen voted (See all votes here):

Democrats
Carson – Yes
Donnelly – No
Ellsworth – No
Hill – Yes
Visclosky – No

Republicans
Burton – No
Buyer – No
Pence – No
Souder – No

Hat tip to Hoosier Access for getting votes up promptly.

Obama’s Budget Passes, Indiana Chamber Opposes

The U.S. House passed the budget on a party-line vote Thursday night, 233-196; later the Senate passed a modified version 55-43 with two Democrats joining all 41 Republicans in opposition. Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Shirkieville) was one of the two.

This budget calls for approximately $4 trillion in expenditures in a single year, or nearly 29% of our country’s gross domestic product (GDP). According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the Obama Administration’s budget blueprint, if followed, would double the national debt in five years and nearly triple it by 2019 – a point at which America’s federal debt would equal 82% of GDP.

The Indiana Chamber adamantly opposes such irresponsible spending, as well as many of the specific programs and tax increases included in the president’s proposal and urged the entire Indiana congressional delegation to reject the president’s proposal and adopt a more fiscally restrained, responsible alternative.

In addition to unsustainable spending and unacceptable levels of public indebtedness, President Obama’s budget would radically alter the federal government’s relationship to its citizens through expansive new proposals regarding taxation, energy, environmental regulation and health care. Hoosiers are looking for a common-sense solution to restore the economy, not an expansive overhaul of federal government programs. Increasing taxes as a means to finance new federal spending on health care reform, Medicare and energy policy resulting in the country’s largest government expansion in decades is the wrong answer at the wrong time. The country simply cannot afford a budget this out-sized, nor can we expect small businesses to invest in the economy or employ workers while their livelihoods are threatened by tax hikes and federal intervention across numerous markets and industries.

The Indiana Chamber is alarmed at the sheer size of the president’s proposal and what it portends for the future of free enterprise, job creation and economic growth in our country.

HOW THEY VOTED:  Within Indiana’s Congressional delegation, Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republicans Dan Burton, Steve Buyer, Mike Pence and Mark Souder voted against the budget plan. Democrats Andre Carson, Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and Pete Visclosky voted in favor. In the Senate, both Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh voted against.

Auto Bailout Passes House

The auto bailout for the Big 3 (Chrysler, Ford, GM), worth $14 billion of assistance, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 237-170. Here’s how Indiana’s Congressmen voted:

For
Andre Carson (D)
Joe Donnelly (D)
Brad Ellsworth (D)
Baron Hill (D)
Pete Visclosky (D)
Steve Buyer (R)
Mark Souder (R)

Against
Dan Burton (R)
Mike Pence (R)

The bill now heads to the Senate. Indiana’s junior Senator Evan Bayh (D) has this to say:

“We’re faced with trying to choose the best among unpalatable alternatives. Nobody wanted to give money to the banks or to the insurance companies, and nobody wants to give money to the auto industry. I don’t. But if the alternative is losing hundreds of thousands of jobs and having automakers, dealerships, part suppliers, and other retailers in local communities go down, we have to make a hard choice here.

“People think the economy is bad now, but if we let all these companies go belly up, and all those folks get laid off, I’m afraid it would be much worse.

“Indiana has a huge stake in this debate. If the big auto companies go down and thousands of jobs are lost, it’s going to hit us a lot harder than almost any place else in the country."

Economic Stabilization Bill Passes House, Bush to Sign

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 by a tally of 263 to 171.

Republicans who said they would switch their votes from "no" to "yes" included Rep. Howard Cobble, R-N.C., and Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C. In a statement, Myrick said, "We’re on the cusp of a complete catastrophic credit meltdown. There is no liquidity in the market. We are out of time. Either you believe that fact, or you don’t. I do."

Indiana’s Congressmen voted as follows:

Yay
Andre Carson (D)
Joe Donnelly (D)
Brad Ellsworth (D)
Mark Souder (R)

Nay
Dan Burton (R)
Steve Buyer (R)
Mike Pence (R)
Baron Hill (D)
Pete Visclosky (D)

Both Indiana Senators Richard Lugar (R) and Evan Bayh (D) voted for the bill in the Senate, where it passed 74-25.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., cast a reluctant “yes” vote.

“As distasteful as it is for Congress to take this action, doing nothing would likely make things much worse,” he said in a statement. “Once we have dealt with the present crisis, we must channel our anger into making sure this never, ever happens again.”

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., also voted for the bill.

“Failure to pass (this) legislation would lead to massive unemployment and failure of small business and farming operations in Indiana,” he said in a statement. “That is unacceptable.”

Bailout Supporters and Detractors

No matter what side of yesterday’s great bailout debate you were on, you’d probably like to know how Indiana’s Congressmen voted, so here goes:

Voted Against:

Dan Burton (R)
Mike Pence (R)
Steve Buyer (R)
Pete Visclosky (D)
Andre Carson (D)
Baron Hill (D)

Voted For:

Joe Donnelly (D)
Brad Ellsworth (D)
Mark Souder (R)

(Hat tip to Hoosier Access.)

Ultimately, the $700 billion bailout was defeated 228-205. Indiana Congressman Mike Pence’s quote in a Bloomberg article was also highlighted in today’s Drudge Report:

"The American People rejected this bill and now Congress did likewise," Pence said.